Teen critic Andersen on ‘Bye Bye Birdie’: Nearly seamless show

Eleven Charlotte-area high school students are competing in the new theater criticism category of the Blumey Awards, the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ annual musical theater awards program (read more about that here.) Each student writes three reviews; the following is one entry:

While some productions rely on the familiarity of hit musical numbers, others take the catchy melodies and run with them, placing emphasis on strong harmonies and seamless choreography. In the case of Weddington High’s “Bye Bye Birdie,” the latter was true.

The show, set in the ’60s, opens with heartthrob Conrad Birdie (Thomas Haney) drafted into the Army. Struggling songwriter Albert Peterson (Kevin Reid) fights to maintain his career, while keeping his secretary and long-suffering girlfriend Rosie Alvarez (Morgan Somers) happy. Rosie and Albert hatch a plan to improve Albert’s career: To bid farewell, Conrad will sing Albert’s “One Last Kiss” and kiss adoring fan Kim MacAfee (Abby Schrader) on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

However, the plan does not go off seamlessly, and Birdie’s arrival ruffles the feathers of both Mr. MacAfee (Evan Chronis) and Kim’s boyfriend, Hugo (Tanner Glackin). As their plan unfolds, Rosie and Albert face conflict in their relationship, and Rosie wonders if Albert will ever be able to escape from the shadow of his overbearing mother (Emma Yates).

The performance opened with vintage television footage and a rendition of “We Love You, Conrad” that was all over the place. I was fairly sure that I would leave underwhelmed; however, the performance grew to exceed expectations.

Multiple stars emerged in the opening act and continued to impress throughout the second act. Following the disjointed opening, Reid and Somers took the stage, and the chemistry between the two was apparent. Somers proved to be a skilled singer with her rendition of “An English Teacher” and, later, “Spanish Rose.”

The next scene featured a difficult-to-hear but bright rendition of “The Telephone Hour,” in which characters used telephone cords for jump ropes and danced around on brightly colored cubes. It was here that Rebecca Davidson, as Ursula Merkle, first captured her frenzied, fan-girl character perfectly. Davidson continued to dominate scenes throughout the performance, the highlight being her recitation of a mash-up of the Conrad Birdie Pledge and the Pledge of Allegiance. Yates shone as the overbearing mother, inciting laughter with her over-the-top solo “A Mother Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”

Schrader may have been the most entertaining to watch, displaying her aptitude for singing with “How Lovely To Be A Woman” and the fiery “What Did I Ever See In Him?” Reid captured his grandiose title character convincingly, from his first number (“Honestly Sincere”) through his hilarious stay at the MacAfee household and his visit to the Ice House with Kim.

Characters repeatedly interacted with the audience, singing and dancing down the aisles, and the musical numbers involving the entire cast were the strongest. Catchy tunes, such as “Kids,” left the audience humming after the performance was over.

Much of the staging utilized the sets initially placed during “The Telephone Hour.” This minimalistic approach was unlike anything I’d seen, and I was impressed at how Weddington managed to make it work. Costumes were appropriate for the time period and small touches, such as the use of identical tan trenchcoats during “Healthy American Boy,” were aesthetically pleasing. A small, live orchestra complemented the vocals.